Four million reasons to think before you mock Dyson Heydon

2 September 2015

Yesterday I retweeted something posted from a Dyson Heydon spoof account. Brendan Fitzgerald called me out for it, and he was right to do so. Whilst at first glance I thought it was a witty commentary on the cosy boys club running Australia, five seconds of reflection made it clear that it was in fact merely lampooning Heydon for being an older man who doesn’t know how to send email.

There are a lot of people in Australia who don’t know how to send email. According to Brendan’s latest project, Go Digi, there are in fact about four million of them. They’re not all as old as you might think, either. Some are young refugees who have grown up in extreme poverty. Some are women who left paid employment to care for their children, and missed two decades of tech progress. Some are highly skilled mechanics, horticulturalists or tradespeople who have never had a desk job.

The problem with Dyson Heydon is not that he cannot send email. The problem is that until two years ago he was a Justice of the High Court, and is currently a Royal Commissioner, and he can’t sent email. The problem is his arrogant pride that he can’t send email. The problem is that Dyson Heydon doesn’t have to know how to send email, because he has an assistant to do that sort of thing for him. Four million other Australians don’t have that luxury. Heydon’s lack of basic computing and internet skills has ramifications for his judgements as a justice of the High Court. For example, he ruled on the Google vs ACCC case in 2013 - with very little if any personal understanding of how Google or TCP/IP work.

Meanwhile, as I have mentioned before, the Australian Digital Transformation Office is pushing ahead to enact Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘digital first’ vision for government service provision. This is already having results, with Centrelink forcing their ‘customers’ to register online with an email address in order to receive support payments. If they need assistance, than are told to either wait two weeks for an appointment with a stressed, overworked Centrelink staffer, or go to the local library (paid for by local government, which in Victoria is about to be forced by the State Government into austerity measures, for no reason that has ever been adequately explained. Think about this next time the tabloids scream about ‘class war’ or ‘Council waste’.

For a Royal Commissioner to boast of not knowing how to send an email is high farce. It should be condemned. But for twenty percent of Australia’s population to share this inability is a tragedy. They should be supported, not mocked.

We can all do better.